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Media Conference – Adelaide

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

Minister for Indigenous Australians
The Hon Linda Burney MP

Cabinet Secretary
The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

Special Envoy for Reconciliation and the Implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart
Senator Patrick Dodson

Joint transcript


Subjects: Referendum Working Group, Referendum Engagement Group, Constitution Alteration Bill, South Australian First Nations Voice Bill

KYAM MAHER, SA ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you everyone for being here, it has been a distinct pleasure to host the referendum Engagement Group here in South Australia today, and as the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, it was an even greater pleasure to hear of the enthusiasm and the work that is being done in preparation of a referendum later this year. It was an even greater pleasure today to be able to share with the Referendum Engagement Group the work that we're doing in South Australia. During parliamentary settings next week, we will pass legislation for a First Nations Voice to the South Australian Parliament. A fully elected body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who will have a legislated right to have their views heard by the Parliament of South Australia and by the executive government in South Australia. And I am pleased to be able to announce today that we will have a special sitting of the South Australian Parliament on Sunday the 26 March at 11am, and we will close off part of North Terrace to allow as many people to come into the city, there will be free public transport into the city for as many South Australians that want to witness this historic event in South Australia, the passing of our legislation that we hope will provide some comfort to people around Australia in the lead up to a referendum. It will provide some comfort that no harm can come of this, the worst thing that can happen with our voice to Parliament and a federal voice to Parliament is that Aboriginal people's voices will be better heard. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament and we are looking forward as a South Australian government and in South Australia to supporting the yes campaign in the lead up to the Federal referendum later this year. I will hand over to my friend, Thomas.

THOMAS MAYO, REFERENDUM WORKING GROUP: Thank you Kyam. I just want to begin by acknowledging the Attorney-General's good work and the Commissioner for the Voice here in South Australia, the great work they have done to develop this legislation and to implement a Voice in South Australia demonstrates that this can be done. It is not the only jurisdiction that is working on this, and it's something that is overdue in this country. I am a member of the Referendum Working Group and the Engagement group, we are around 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all around the country. We come from remote communities in regional areas and cities, and we are doing a lot of hard work to reach a set of words that we can take to the Australian people that will see the nation become a better country, a better nation, where we recognise, where we simply recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for our long existing and continuing heritage and culture and to do that in a way that gives greater fairness to our people who have decisions made about us all the time as a distinct people, to give us a voice to those decisions. This is a long overdue reform in this country. It’s something that all Australians will be proud of when we achieve it, and I want the Australian people to understand that all we're doing with this referendum is enshrining the principle, the principle that we should be recognised, that it is part of who we are as Australians, this long proud culture and that we should do it in a way that genuinely listens to what we have to say when decisions are made about us. So we invite the Australian people to walk with us, we are looking forward to settling the words in the coming weeks and then campaigning for a strong yes result at the referendum that will make our children proud of us well into the future.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Good morning and thank you all for coming. And thank you to the Minister, the Commissioner for providing such a wonderful opportunity to come to South Australia. Both the Referendum Working Group and as you can see around me, the Engagement Group. The Engagement Group is made up of people, as Thomas has said, from right across Australia. It is diverse, it is inclusive and it has been an absolute important vehicle in terms of getting us where we are. We also have the federal Attorney-General and the Special Envoy for the Voice and Reconciliation Patrick Dodson with us today. We are doing the work that is needed to get this Voice right. I can assure you that we are on track. We are taking our time, we are consulting and we are being very deliberate about being on track and very deliberate about getting the work done to make sure this Voice is a Voice that people are asking for. The referendum will be at the end of this year. It is no longer academic. It is actually happening.

The Attorney General in the next two weeks of Parliament will introduce into the Parliament the Constitution Alteration Bill and that will outline what the question is to the Australian people and what the amendments will be to the Constitution. And as the Prime Minister has said, we will have a referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Voice into the Australian Constitution. It is about consultation. It is about negotiation. And it is certainly about representation. That is exactly what the Voice is about. It is about making sure that First Nations voices, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard by the Parliament. It is also about putting, finally into the Australian Constitution, recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander story, history and the wonderful legacy that is brought to this country of over 65,000 years. This is a once in a generation chance. A once in a generation chance to make sure there is recognition and make sure there is representation. Australia is on the verge of doing something remarkable. It is on the verge of recognising, finally, First Nations people in a way that is going to make us feel all proud and walk taller on the day after the referendum. People have been working for decades towards this. The life expectancy outcomes and many of the other social justice outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are totally unacceptable.

This is a way to make sure decisions made around and about us are decision that are informed by First Nations people from across the country. Can I finally say this, that through the efforts of the Working Group and the Engagement Group we are on track to get this done. And get it done we will. We will finalise the question and the amendments for the Australian Constitution and you will all know those words in a very short period of time. Can I finish up by saying I am so proud and indebted to the people that you see around us. They are from communities. They know what the issues are on the ground. They represent thousands of people. It is through their work and through their voices that we will get this right. And it is their work and their voices that have kept us on track to make sure that we deliver to the Australian people a referendum towards the end of this year. And we're happy take questions.

JOURNALIST: When you say the question and the amendment will be made public very soon, are you saying weeks or months?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The Attorney General can respond to that.

MARK DREYFUS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will have a Constitution Alteration Bill in the Parliament by the end of the coming sitting fortnight. That bill contains the words that are to amend the Constitution and the question that will be put to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect the wording to be any different than the wording that has been on the table for several months now?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The wording that has been informed so far by not only the Working Group, but the Engagement Group will go to Cabinet. It will be fully understood and fully discussed. The main issue is this. Is that we are on track to deliver a referendum at the end of this year.

JOURNALIST: Are you any closer to a date for the referendum?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The date will be decided by the Prime Minister and he has been very clear that it will be in the last part of this year. I can say there is a fair few football grand finals in September – so it won’t be then. The Prime Minister has the responsibility and respect to make the decision about when that date will be. It is not my decision.

JOURNALIST: In the meetings you’ve been holding is there a consensus amongst the group about what the question should be and what the amendment should be?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: There is no division. I want to make that extraordinarily clear. The wording will be decided on in the near future. The work of the Working Group and Engagement Group will absolutely inform where we go in terms of finalising that. I can assure you, we are so close. It is exciting.

JOURNALIST: You anticipate a voice be given the powers to advice parliament and government or just parliament?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The decisions around that will be finalised in the next week or two. But the Uluru Statement was very clear and it was a Voice to advise the Parliament. So take that in its broadest sense. Of course, the principles that have been determined about the Voice stand, including its accountability, including its inclusivity, which is extraordinarily important. Importantly, there will be gender parity. Those things are extremely important. There has been some very good work done around expanding those principles. I'm not going to get ahead of either the Engagement Group, the Working Group or the cabinet on final decisions.

JOURNALIST: Are you taking any guidance from the South Australia about a Voice to parliament?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Yes, we have. The Minister and the Commissioner presented yesterday to the Working Group, presented today to the Engagement Group. The process, the model and the lessons and it has been very instructive and useful and I am very grateful for it.

JOURNALIST: Can you elaborate at all on what some of those lessons were?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Lessons around making sure the rounds of consultation and representations were done thoroughly. Issues around how it sits with other legislation. Issues around how it might interface with the Parliament. I'm not saying we're going to mirror everything but what I am saying is it has been really helpful to listen to what other South Australian model is. But most importantly, that it is actually about to happen. And it’s there to complement and support the work we’re doing federally.

JOURNALIST: Will you be gathering again soon with the question and the amendment, meeting again soon?

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: There will be processes in place to finalise recommendations but can I just say this, the role of the Engagement Group and Working Group don't have a final date on them, despite what the media has been saying in the last little while. These two groups are from First Nations leaders right across the country in geographic as well as policy areas, as well as people that have been involved in the Uluru process for six years and the value of these groups is immeasurable.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask the Attorney General, can you talk to us through what is happening on the 26th?

KYAM MAHER, SA ATTORNEY-GENERAL: On the 26 March, just over a week away on a Sunday, Parliament, both houses of Parliament will resume at 11am in the morning. It is anticipated we will have big screens that will play the proceedings of Parliament for people on North Terrace. We’ll be offering free public transport to all South Australians to come into the city to witness what is happening. The intention is that the South Australian First Nations Voice bill will pass Parliament on that special Sunday sitting in those final stages. It will then be officially proclaimed with the executive Council and the Governor as part of those proceeding on the steps of Parliament and then a few speeches and finished off with a few musical acts from South Australian Indigenous musicians. A real recognition and celebration of what we're doing in South Australia as something that is quite extraordinary for South Australia, but also playing our part in a national role in terms of supporting a First Nations Voice process.